09 September 2008

Terrorism with an American Face?

Just in time for the seventh anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, MSNBC invites us to be afraid of everybody. The Germans, we learn, have broken up a plot by ethnic Germans allegedly trained by al-Qaeda to blow up Americans in bars a la Bali. We are informed that sources are seeing more "white men" in the ungoverned tribal area in Pakistan that's believed to be al-Qaeda's stronghold. We're reminded that Adam Gadahn, the American who does English-language tapes for al-Qaeda, is still at large.

I feel strangely unalarmed. For one thing, for most of the world, "terrorism with an American face," as the website calls it, is nothing new. For another, it's nothing new to America, either. In this country it's usually the face of the lone gunman who runs amok in schools or offices, but I could see some such people embracing "jihad" in the same transgressive spirit with which some embrace Hitler. To the extent that the American media portrays Islam as a religion of hatred and negativity, they may make it even more appealing to the murderously alienated elements in our midst.

The American government has been unable to thwart these people when they decide to kill unless it adopts the "toughtcrime" principal that makes mere talk of murder tantamount to the act itself. Yet reports such as today's on the MSNBC site will certainly be used to justify further surveillance measures. Even better from the government's perspective, there'll be no need to justify any kind of profiling, since now practically anyone could be suspect. In this developing environment it's important to emphasize again that nothing has changed. Every American, except maybe for those who live in the woods, is in danger at any moment of an attack by home-grown madmen. We have been, arguably, ever since Charles Whitman set the precedent for mass murder over 40 years ago.If something needs to be done about this, it should have been done long before anyone ever heard of al-Qaeda. The introduction of "terrorism" into the discussion changes nothing except in the government's favor.

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